Ashgabat, 20 February 2017 (nCa) — President Berdymuhamedov was sworn in for his third term in office on 17 February 2017 (Friday).
This term, under the new Constitution of Turkmenistan, is for seven years – 2017 to 2023.
In his speech at the inauguration ceremony, in his remarks to the armed forces contingents later in the day, and during his landmark speech at the expended cabinet meeting on Saturday (18 February 2017), the Turkmen president spelled out the key directions of his domestic and foreign policy for the next seven years.
In order to identify and understand the new content in the domestic and foreign policy of Turkmenistan, there is the need to look carefully at the speech of Berdymuhamedov at his inauguration ceremony and his address to the cabinet meeting in the proper spirit and context.
It is important to note that a wide range of new possibilities are going to appear for fruitful partnership with Turkmenistan for the period up to 2023. However, the window of opportunity to benefit from such opportunities will be short – perhaps no more than a year – and it will be imperative to correctly interpret the shifting trends for better partnership prospects with Turkmenistan. The new forms of partnership will start solidifying within the next few months.
To do this, let’s first look at the speech of Berdymuhamedov at the investiture ceremony:
According to the text received from TDH, the official news agency of Turkmenistan, the president thanked the people for showing their trust in him. He thanked the other candidates for their objective and focused campaign and said that they have proved their reliability for being entrusted with important jobs.
“Independent Turkmenistan has entered a new stage of development. We define the period as a period of progressive development and wide-ranging reforms.
“Realizing the people’s enormous creative potential, making the sustainable use of natural resources, relying on the solidarity, peace and unity, and taking into account the remarkable achievements, we have set new, yet more crucial tasks.
“In my televised keynote address on December 25 last year, I, as a presidential candidate, presented my vision of the important tasks to be tackled on the path toward our neural independent country’s development. I clearly identified the top-priority areas of large-scale activities, based on innovative development and the latest scientific achievements. We have to work towards the targets. Strengthening the solid foundation of the united Turkmen state, enhancing its international authority and increasing considerably its economic potential are the main objective of the tasks.
“For more than 21 years, our independent state has been working toward the development of international relations, given its permanent neutrality. Our country is maintaining the relations of friendship, fraternity and good neighborhood with other countries and nations. The principles fully meet our people’s national interests and our independent state’s foreign policy.
“Consequently, the fundamental principles identified by our country’s neutrality, such as strengthening universal peace and security, broadening the relations of good neighborhood, friendship and fraternity, ensuring stable development will be priority trends of independent Turkmenistan’s foreign policy in the future. We will continue to expand our trade-economic, cultural-humanitarian relations, cooperation in the fields of education and science with all states and nations.
“As you know, we have set a major goal – to turn our country into an advanced, industrially developed state. To put our country’s natural resources to work for the benefit of the nation, we will ensure processing of hydrocarbon resources with the use of state-of-the-art technologies and will produce high-quality products, such as gasoline, polypropylene, polyethylene and liquefied gas, which are in high demand in the world.
“In terms of the fuel and energy sector, Turkmenistan will continue its close cooperation with neighboring states and other countries, with which we have established strong economic ties. The implementation of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project is of particular importance. In addition to big revenues, it will deliver electricity and make homes warm for the people in neighboring countries.
“Turkmenistan is rich not only in hydrocarbons. It has ore mineral of almost all metals in the periodic table. The advantageous geopolitical location, extensive road and railway networks greatly facilitate their development, mining and processing. With a glance to this, we will continue making efforts to successfully realize the country’s huge economic and natural potential for the benefit of the current and future generations.
“On this basis, we will widely adopt economic mechanisms for increasing exports of competitive, high-quality goods to foreign markets. We will boost import-substituting production and will continue working towards the creation of electronic industry in accordance with the adopted programs.
“We will continue working on the development of the power industry and commissioning of new power plants. The volumes of electric energy that we produce fully satisfy our domestic needs and guarantee uninterrupted export via existing routes. Our energy will also have a positive impact on the lives of the people of the neighboring states that are in need of electricity. This will ensure the progressive development of long-held humanist principles of our people.
“As a way to rational use of non-conventional types of energy, such as solar and wind, we will greatly support the advancement of these areas.
“Among my major objectives, I see the promotion, support and development of entrepreneurship and market relations in various branches of economy.
“At present, it is impossible to match the current rapid paces of development and keep in step with the times without focusing on the development of education, science and training highly qualified professionals with excellent knowledge of advanced technology.
“Following the principle “Educated generation is the might of the Motherland” we will adopt further measures for extensive development of science and education.
“We will continue building modern kindergartens, schools and universities. We will train highly qualified professionals for educational institutions and equip these institutions with advanced technology. We will focus on establishing new universities and in-depth learning of foreign languages by the young generation.
“We always adhere to the principle “Culture is the soul of the people” and place a great emphasis on the development of culture and arts. We will continue working in this area. Drawing upon the rich national spiritual and cultural heritage, we will ensure that our people will be glorified throughout the world as the nation of builders and nation of creators.
“Abiding by the principle “People’s health is the treasure of the State”, and under the State Healthcare Program, “Saglyk”, we will provide our people with medical care in accordance with the modern requirements. We will support the successful resolution of key issues of maternal and child health. We will always attach great importance to the development of physical training and sports, increasing physical activity of our people and promoting their health.
“We will continue the large-scale works to build the Health Houses, Centers for Health Protection, hospitals and wellness centers that match the growing up-to-date needs; to expand our resorts network and turn “Avaza” National Tourist Zone, created on the eco-friendly Caspian coast, into one of the most renowned recreation and wellness centers in the world.
“As you know, family is the foundation of the society. We will allocate necessary funds to provide material support to families and resolve social and domestic issues. One of the key objectives is to provide proper living conditions for the people in urban and rural areas.
“Therefore, one of major goals of ours is to successfully implement the National Program for Rural Development.
“These goals will be translated into relentless work to provide every family with contemporary accommodation. In every settlement, we will establish small community centers and organize the work of all necessary services, crafts workshops, and vehicle maintenance facilities there. Along water collectors leading to “Altyn Asyr” Turkmen lake, we will create all necessary conditions for the people, for life, work and leisure.
“The important challenge that is always ahead of us is to ensure the sustained income growth of the population. Therefore, we will bring up the per capita income level to that in the developed countries. We will remain focused on the issues of increasing salaries, pensions, scholarships and state allowances, as well as on issues of providing other social benefits to our citizens.
“I would like to assure all of you, that we will prevent deterioration in the standard of living for every family, and our people will always remain under State protection.
“At the same time, among our priority tasks, we will place a great emphasis on agriculture; improvement of condition of reclaimed farmlands; the state of arable lands; achievement of greater crop productivity and easing farmers’ work. We will review continuously the issues of water resources management.
“One of the key targets is to provide the people of the country with food staples at affordable prices. To that end we will ensure the abundance of commodities and products at markets and stores, and will expand services.
“We will place a great emphasis on the development of communications; continue working on cosmic exploration and launch of new satellites that will improve telecommunication, TV and radio networks and benefit the national economy; restoration and advancement of the Great Silk Road that connected the continents in the past. And our country must make its great contribution to this work that is of crucial importance for the mankind as a whole. As a result, we will promote the expansion of international economic and commercial relations.
“Medieval Turkmen scientists made wonderful discoveries in cognition of the Universe and made large input into development of the world science. That is why we will also establish the world-class centre with observatory for research of the space.
“We will steadily improve the work of political system of our society. For this purposes, during the next session of the Council of the Elders in Ahal Velayat in this year, we will discuss legislative amendments to the Resolution of the Council for increase of its role and will bring it to the review by the Mejlis.
“We will consolidate the local executive administration. Further democratization of social life will be one of our main targets. We will promote increasing the effectiveness of work of local election representative bodies – Velayat, etrap and city Halk Maslahatys (People’s Council). We will increase the role of local citizens’ self-governance bodies – Gengeshys, in social and political system.
“We will continue to do all necessary for improvement of new political parties.
“Further consolidation of social and legal protection of the people is one of our main objectives. Implementing the policy “The State for Human!” we will apply different mechanisms of legal support of the population. The work on protection of the rights of our citizens, guaranteed by the Constitution, will be continued. For these purposes, the ombudsmen institution, summoned to monitor the observance of rights and interests by executive power bodies and government officials, would start its work.
“You all are aware that Ashgabat is to host V Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in autumn of this year. We will take all efforts to hold the Games on high organizational level.
“We have to pay special attention to provision of prosperity of the country and peaceful life of our people. That is why in the future we will counteract decisively international terrorism, extremism, trans-boundary organized crime and illegal drugs trafficking. We will continue cooperating in this field with international organizations.
“National Army, Air Forces and Navy, Border Guard formations are reliable guarantee of the protection of peaceful life our people.
“Following military doctrine, which is exclusively of defensive character, we will steadily increase the power of our Armed Forces.
“We will enhance further improvement of work of law enforcement agencies.
“I am confident that together with you, my dear compatriots, we will successfully solve these targets and make one of the prosperous states of the world out of our country!
“For one more time, I express my sincere gratitude to all constituents, who participated in the elections and voted for me.
“I highly appreciate the great trust you rendered to me. I assure you that I will put all my power, knowledge, experience and abilities to justify this trust by the deeds I will undertake for the sake of peaceful, prosperous and happy life of the Motherland and our people.”
This is nearly the complete text of the speech. As can be seen here, the stress will remain on the ongoing programmes, projects and initiatives.
- Ombudsman’s office will start functioning in the foreseeable future
- Turkmenistan will take first steps in space exploration and research
- Local bodies and Elders Council will get more power
- Use of advanced technologies and modern methods will increase in the industrial sector and downstream hydrocarbon processing
- Power generation and export will feature even more prominently in the revenue generation activities
- Alternate energy resources, mainly wind and solar, will come to fore during the next seven years
- The private sector will be encouraged to participate more actively in all areas including education
- Altyn Asyr, the largest manmade lake in the region, will become a source of its own unique set of opportunities
- There would be new steps to internationalize the communications sector including the media
Keeping in view these existing and new areas for partnership, let’s now look at the freshly updated foreign policy directions of Turkmenistan.
At the expanded cabinet meeting on Saturday (18 February 2017), President Berdymuhamedov approved the concept of the foreign policy of Turkmenistan for the period 2017-2023.
In his speech, he outlined the 17-point framework that underpins of the foreign policy priorities of Turkmenistan for this period.
Here is the text received from TDH:
“The world today is changing rapidly; there are various new political and economic structures, new threats and challenges. Such conditions require carrying out a responsible and deeply thought-out foreign policy, which our country builds on the basis of clearly defined principles and basic provisions of neutrality based on the historical experience of the people, that has absorbed values, traditions, customs, and ethical norms, accumulated over centuries.
“Neutrality and its foundations have enabled us to consistently follow our firm believes. These include love of peace and respect for other peoples, their culture and customs, philosophy and religion. All this helps us to build fruitful and equal relations with all partners, creates the conditions for substantive negotiations on any issues, finding mutually acceptable solutions that actively involve new forms of international cooperation.
“For these reasons Turkmenistan is increasingly consolidating its position as one of the recognized centers for broad and multilateral exchange of views on major issues of common development. Their successful solution requires our diplomats to continuously improve the level of skills and education, to have a clear understanding of the strategic objectives and key activities of Turkmenistan in the international arena.
“Asserting by Decree the “Concept of foreign policy of Turkmenistan for 2017-2023”, I want to note that this document defines the content and priorities of international cooperation of our neutral state in the medium term. It also reflects new trends and circumstances of the global and regional development. And as a responsible state, we must take all necessary measures in connection with these trends and phenomena, specifically setting out our views and approaches.
“The main areas of work in the coming years in the framework of the “Concept of foreign policy of Turkmenistan for 2017-2023” are the following:
“1. Broad and multi-format cooperation with the United Nations has been and remains a strategic vector of the international activities of our neutral state. We always emphasize that United Nations is the main platform for resolving any important international issues. Turkmenistan, gratefully appreciating the support and recognition of its neutrality by the Community of Nations, bears a special responsibility towards the organization. It seeks to promote strengthening of international peace and security. And it will always continue to do so.
“2. Our neutral state does and will continue to actively participate in addressing critical environmental issues, matters of water resources management, prevention and mitigation of natural and man-made disasters. Our state will assist to attract the United Nations to a wide and effective solution of these problems.
“3. In this regard, I want to note particular importance of environmental and water diplomacy of Turkmenistan. Within the framework of the chairmanship of Turkmenistan in the International Aral Sea Fund in 2016-2019, it is necessary to implement the provisions of the relevant Concept. In this context, it is important to give this work a particular character and direct it to the achievement of outcomes.
“4. On this basis, we have to clearly and consistently fulfill the provisions of resolutions of UN General Assembly on reliable and sustainable transit of energy resources. We must continue to actively cooperate in this direction with the United Nations Member States, and the Secretariat of the Organization. We need to create favorable conditions for the work of the group of international experts for preparation of multilateral international legal UN documents to ensure energy security and to create a sustainable energy system. As is known, this year Turkmenistan takes the chairmanship in the Energy Charter Conference. This means that everything coming into this area of work should be carried out in an organized manner and at a high level.
“5. The transport system should also be one of the key areas of cooperation with the United Nations and its specialized agencies. In this connection it is necessary to actively implement our country’s initiative to create transport corridors. We need to carry out work directed on transformation of Central Asia into a major transport and transit hub on a continental scale.
“The Global Conference on Sustainable Transport held in Ashgabat in November last year has become an event of international importance. It was the starting point for the establishment of international relations on transport. We must continue the work we have started in this direction into the future. We need to achieve compliance with the provisions adopted in the final documents of Ashgabat.
“6. Our independent state will systematically expand its relations with other international and regional organizations – Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Islamic Cooperation Organization, and Non-Aligned Movement. I believe that in order to strengthen cooperation for peace and security, economic and humanitarian ties, we should actively use these organizations for conduct of international business.
“At the same time, being an associate member of the CIS, Turkmenistan will continue to develop its activities in the framework of the CIS, in accordance with the basic rules of its legal neutral status. In recent years, there have been some positive trends in the coordinated work of our country and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. I consider it expedient to study all the possible forms of cooperation with this major regional organization.
“7. Another important direction of foreign policy of our state is the neutral development of close and multilateral relations with its closest neighbors. Cooperation with the countries of the region on the principles of mutual understanding and trust is the basic condition for the preservation and strengthening of peace and security in Central Asia. It also determines dynamic economic and social development of the region. It allows us to connect and actively support the world economy, to widely attract investment.
“In this regard, the content of the regional strategy of Turkmenistan is the following: the development and resolution of the most important issues of broad international cooperation, establishment of full cooperation in Central Asia, favorable geo-political and economic conditions. On this basis, our independent country will continue to cooperate with states in the region and carry out purposeful work both on bilateral basis and within international organizations.
“As a result of Turkmenistan’s policy of neutrality, peace and mutual respect, we managed to establish relations of friendship, cooperation and mutual understanding with Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and other Central Asian states – Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. These countries and people living in them are considered by Turkmenistan as brotherly countries and people. Our country is united with them by geography, common history, culture and traditions. Therefore, we will continue to strengthen all-round cooperation in the region. We will promote the development of trade, economic and humanitarian partnership.
“We pay special attention to Afghanistan. Under the auspices of the United Nations we continue to act in favor of stabilizing the situation in the country through a political settlement. We call on the international community to assist in the socio-economic reconstruction of Afghanistan.
“8. We will continue to actively cooperate on the Caspian Sea on the five-party basis. In recent years, we achieved significant progress in addressing some of the major issues on the Caspian Sea, including an agreement on approach to its legal status. Agreements on protection and rational use of the Caspian Sea water and biological resources, prevention and elimination of emergency situations in the Caspian Sea have been put forward by Turkmenistan and signed and approved by all the parties.
“We also took the initiative to study the documents on trade-economic and transport cooperation on the Caspian Sea. We need to conduct systematic work with the Caspian countries to maintain the initiative, establish regular and target-oriented relationships in these promising areas of cooperation.
“9. Russian Federation is a strategic partner of Turkmenistan. Cooperation with Russia – both on bilateral basis and within international organizations – has proved its effectiveness and shown that it is in the fundamental interests of both countries. We will continue to develop direct cooperation with Russian regions. These regions are now showing more interest in the Turkmen market.
“10. We will continue to expand cooperation with the states of Caucasus, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova. These countries are our traditional partners. Bilateral and multilateral relations with them are very important. I consider it promising to co-operate with these countries in trade, economics, investments, cultural and humanitarian spheres, where there are great opportunities for cooperation.
“11. Peoples Republic of China is united with our country by relations of close friendship and strategic cooperation. Today, China is the largest foreign trade partner of Turkmenistan. Relations with this country are based on mutually beneficial and long-term basis. On the eastern vector of our foreign policy, we will strengthen relations with other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. In recent years we have carried out the meeting with the heads of Japan, Malaysia and South Korea. These meetings confirmed the interest of the parties in cooperation, which shows presence of great potential.
“12. We will continue our fruitful cooperation with the European countries, and the United States, especially on such important issues as the preservation of peace and stability in Central Asia. Let us work together to combat new threats and challenges of our time, to cooperate effectively in the field of energy security.
“13. I consider it necessary to seriously study the opportunities for interaction with the countries of Latin America. Several major countries in the region have shown great interest in cooperation with Turkmenistan. Therefore, through conducting various international events, we should actively use the opportunities of political cooperation with these countries, using their traditional views on protection of the interests of developing states.
“14. We must actively engage the African direction of our foreign policy. We need to strengthen and develop our relations with the African Union.
“15. Cooperation with international financial and economic structures is now of great importance to successful involvement of Turkmenistan in the global world economy. In this respect, we will continue to maintain a fruitful cooperation with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Asian Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank and other major financial institutions. We will continue to study the prospects of joining the World Trade Organization.
“16. Traditionally, we attach great importance to the development of international cultural relations. We believe cooperation in this area is an effective way to achieve peace, mutual understanding and rapprochement of peoples. Turkmenistan is open for wide sharing and strengthening of the links with creative figures. Our country holds annual international competitions and festivals. These events are attended by figures of culture and masters of arts from around the world, and, not only by recognized ones, but also by young people and children. These activities help to establish good relations between people of different nations and religions, relations based on friendship, mutual respect and trust.
“17. This year, we will hold 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat. This shows high trust, placed in our country by the Olympic Council of Asia. This is recognition of successes of Turkmenistan in sport, its contribution to the worldwide Olympic movement, popularization of sports and healthy lifestyle. In this regard, in the remaining time before the Games, we should strengthen the work on preparations for this important landmark in the history of our country and raise the awareness of the world community.
“Special attention should be paid to such qualities of people as openness, originality, and respect for other cultures. We should communicate our commitment at the highest level to receive participants and guests from around the world. All of them will be met according to the beautiful traditions of the Turkmen people – with warmth and hospitality.
“I instruct the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to implement the Concept and to work for the implementation of all existing tasks in this document. Heads of ministries, departments and other public bodies should also be guided by instructions provided in this document in the process of preparation of daily and long-term plans for their international activities.
“No matter the final direction of our foreign policy, it must always be balanced and consistent. It must pursue one main goal – to create an enabling international environment for domestic development of Turkmenistan, as well as help to ensure the legitimate interests of our neutral state in the global arena, serve to improve its credibility as a reliable and stable partner.”
Even a quick scan of this text brings certain points to notice:
- Russia has moved to the forefront of the foreign policy queue of Turkmenistan. The enhanced goodwill is reciprocal as Putin was the first head of a foreign state to congratulate Berdymuhamedov on his election victory.
- In case of the Europe and USA, the main stress is on cooperation in security issues including the energy security, and the fight against terrorism.
- The newfound strength of the policy of neutrality is likely to generate more regional and international initiatives from Turkmenistan.
- There is the strong desire to pursue zero-problems policy with all the immediate neigbours.
- Instantaneous acceleration of interaction will take place with the countries that have already shown the inclination to work together with Turkmenistan in the areas of mutual interest.
* * *
At the start of his speech at the cabinet session, Berdymuhamedov said, “The world today is changing rapidly; there are various new political and economic structures, new threats and challenges.”
This is the basic premise – the world is changing and we are living in uncertain times.
In the first turbulent month of the presidency of Trump, we have seen that it would be futile to look up to the United States for any meaningful leadership role – assuming that there was any time in the recent history when the USA was honestly fulfilling that role.
On the other hand, Russia and China have shown for the last several years that they are able and willing to come forward as problem-solvers.
The artificially created global economic and financial crisis has caused stress to the economy of Turkmenistan. Nevertheless, the resource base of the country remains intact and the damage-control measures are showing signs of success.
The uncertainty will continue for now, possibly even increase, because of the chaotic team in the White House and the rising wave of nationalism in the west. There are important lessons in this for Central Asia including Turkmenistan – the countries that have caused the largest number of refugees and displaced persons in history because of their senseless and selfish wars are also the countries that are doubling down on slamming their doors on the face of those refugees.
The countries that have smashed to smithereens a number of nations – mainly Muslim majority nations – are also the countries that by their acts of commission or omission have created the Hydra of Lerna that we call terrorism. The refusal to acknowledge this simple cause-and-effect phenomenon is the root cause of most of the evils of today.
Under the circumstances, as we have pointed out in a number of our commentaries in the past few months, the prudent choice for Central Asia is to align politically and economically with Russia and China and the other countries that are not part of the destruction and bigotry currently rampant.
With domestic policy goals mentioned in the inauguration speech of Berdymuhamedov and the foreign policy directions outlined in his address to the cabinet of ministers where all the ambassadors of Turkmenistan to foreign countries were also present, we can see that pragmatism blended with optimism is the preferred path for official Ashgabat.
Enormous opportunities are going to appear for partnership with Turkmenistan. We shall keep returning to this topic from time to time. /// nCa